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Direct Realism and the Threat from Perceptual Delusions

Applicant Esfeld Michael
Number 117611
Funding scheme Project funding
Research institution Section de Philosophie Faculté des Lettres Université de Lausanne
Institution of higher education University of Lausanne - LA
Main discipline Philosophy
Start/End 01.08.2008 - 31.07.2011
Approved amount 156'498.00
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Keywords (15)

perception; representationalism; Theories of perception; direct realism; argument from illusion/hallucination; disjunctivism; indirect realism; sense-data; transparency of experience; non-instantiated properties; qualia.; phenomenal principle; secondary properties; visual cognition; perceptual psychology

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
The aim of the present research project is to develop a theory of perceptual consciousness. In particular, we will investigate whether it is possible to champion a genuine form of direct realism that avoids the pitfalls posed by cases of perceptual delusions. To do this, the famous “argument from illusion” will serve as a guideline providing the overall structure of the project. Each step in the argument will be made explicit and will receive extensive discussion. This procedure permits us to tackle some of the most hotly debated topics in the philosophy of perception, such as the nature and role of sense-data, perceptual fallibility, the “phenomenal principle”, parallels between thought and perception, subjective indistinguishability of veridical and falsidical perception, the “transparency of experience”, disjunctivism and representationalism.Among others, we shall highlight that disjunctivism succumbs to the empirically inspired causal argument. As a consequence, naïve realism has to be abandoned and replaced by a “common factor view” of perception, i.e. the idea of an interface between mind and world becomes unavoidable. A possible candidate here is a reductive-externalist form of representationalism. However, we shall argue that representationalism can provide an intelligible answer to the “phenomenal principle” only in so far as it can make sense of the talk of un-instantiated physical properties of which the perceiving subject is consciously aware in being subject to illusion or hallucination. We shall elaborate on this issue in order to see whether a positive account can be given.Moreover, our discussion will take into account recent experimental data from the cognitive sciences and from perceptual psychology. This allows us to set out a theory of perceptual consciousness that is supposed to be compatible with current empirical insights about perception.Hence, the key question of this research project is to examine whether there is some conceptual space open for a genuine form of direct realism or whether we have to abandon direct realism altogether. To settle this issue is a desideratum in the philosophy of perception as well as in the philosophy of mind, because it will, among others, contribute to elucidate the conundrum about the ontological status of sensible properties of which one is sensuously aware in perceptual delusions.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



Causation in Perception: A Challenge to Naïve Realism
Sollberger Michael (2012), Causation in Perception: A Challenge to Naïve Realism, in Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 3(3), 1-16.
Recent German books in the philosophy of mind
Esfeld Michael, Sollberger Michael (2008), Recent German books in the philosophy of mind, in Dialectica, 62, 128-135.